Kudos to Coupeville for taking a big leap toward smart travel

by guest blogger Noel Brady

Coupeville dentist Julie Grove commutes to work
on her electric bicycle
Mike Etzell takes a bus for part of his commute
to work at Island County Human Services.
If you find yourself passing through the small town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, don’t be startled if a lady riding an odd, yellow bicycle stops and says, “What a wonderful morning.”

Funny thing about the people of Coupeville – they seem to actually enjoy their daily commutes, even on Mondays. And ever since the town launched a unique community-based trip reduction program to help curb greenhouse gas emissions a year ago, witnesses have reported spotting folks in Coupeville smiling on their way work.

“Mostly I use my leg power, but when I need a boost on the big hills I can use the electric power,” Coupeville Dentist Julie Grove is happy to tell just about anybody who asks about her electric bicycle, which she rides to work four days a week.

Smiling Coupevillians are catching the bus, sharing a ride, working at home instead of the office, walking and biking, perhaps more than ever before. They’re raising the bar for trip reduction in Island County. When commuters smile in Coupeville – or anywhere else in our state – we smile too. Seems our strategy for getting people to think about driving alone less often is catching on.

A year after this town with a population of 1,800 launched its “community trip reduction” program, more than 160 people – 9 percent of the town – have signed up on RideshareOnline.com and discovered it’s easier than they thought to leave their cars at home and save a whopping 39,493 gallons of gas and more than $281,600 in commute costs.

Back in July of 2008, the town hired Cathy d’Aldmeida to find new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect Coupeville’s gorgeous natural setting. D’Almeida rolled up her sleeves and joined forces with Sustainable Whidbey Coalition; Island Transit; local employers, such as Island County and Whidbey General Hospital; the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT); and RideshareOnline.com to develop a plan that would target the biggest source of greenhouse gas – transportation.

Trip reduction programs have been targeting emissions, fuel consumption and congestion in urban areas across the state for nearly two decades with the statewide Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program. It focuses on large employers in urban centers to encourage workers to drive alone less often. While Washington State is considered a national leader in trip reduction, the state’s existing programs didn’t extend to small towns like Coupeville.

Unlike the urban parts of state where hours of traffic congestion every day is motivation enough for many people to join a vanpool or take the bus, Coupeville’s small-town rush hour lasts only about 15 minutes, d’Almeida said, so she had to get creative. For many, cleaner air, energy conservation and cost savings made an effective call to action. For others incentives of a different kind – the chance to win a $50 gift certificate to a local business – did the trick.

When Coupeville’s rideshare program celebrated its first anniversary in August, the numbers indicated those incentives – personal, environmental or foldable – are paying off.  In just one year it prevented more than 347 metric tons of C02, a greenhouse gas, from entering the atmosphere.

For us this small town’s big success means investing in programs that ease the demand on our transportation systems and protect the air we breathe make sense not just for the state’s congested and urbanized cities but in every community where people travel.

Coupeville Community Trip Reduction Year-1 results

Population:  1,800
New RideshareOnline.com users in Coupeville:  161

Recorded commute trips:
  • By bus:     8,034
  • By carpool:     2,090
  • By vanpool:     322
  • Walking:     1,156
  • Bicycling:     1,100
Gasoline saved:  39,493 gallons
CO2 emissions reduced:  756,950 pounds 
Total monetary savings:  $281,644

More on the Web
To learn more about RideshareOnline.com including recent upgrades visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Transit/Rideshare/RideshareOnline.htm.

For more information about WSDOT’s efforts in reducing greenhouse gas, visit our sustainable transportation page.

Find out what else the Sustainable Whidbey Coalition is working on.